Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Behind the Books: A Look at Voice, Part 3

Today’s topic is tone—the third and final component of nonfiction voice. How is tone different from style? That’s a very good question. And here’s the answer.

While style (see last week’s post) is the personality of the writing, tone is how the writing makes you, the reader, feel. Does it calm you down or does it rev you up. Does it make you feel joyous or sad, respectful or sassy?

Here are two examples of writing with very different tones.


From my book It’s Spit-Acular!: The Secrets of Saliva
"Spit a little saliva into the palm of your hand. Now take a good long look. What do you see?

Spit is a clear, slippery liquid. It looks a lot like water, but it’s a little slimier, and it’s full of tiny bubbles. If you haven’t brushed your teeth lately, your spit might also contain tiny bits of food. Ew! Gross!

There’s a good reason spit looks like water. Water is its main ingredient. But spit also contains many other things. They help saliva do its job.

The slimy mucus in spit makes swallowing easier. Proteins in saliva start to break down food before it reaches your stomach. Spit also contains salts, gases, and all kinds of yucky germs. That’s something to think about the next time someone hits you with a spitball."


From my book When Rains Falls"Inside clouds, water droplets budge and bump, crash and clump.

The drops grow larger and larger, heavier and heavier until they fall to the earth.
When rain falls in a forest . . .

. . . scurrying squirrels suddenly stop. They pull their long, bushy tails over their heads like umbrellas.

A hawk puffs out its feathers to keep water out and warmth in.

Chickadees stay warm and dry inside their tree hole homes."

The first piece is written for grades 3-5 and I want to get them excited about learning, and for them to realize that their bodies and the bodies of other animals are remarkable machines. The tone is sassy, even irreverent.

The second piece is for younger children. My hope that the soothing, comforting tone would make it appropriate for a bedtime story. But the lyricism will also engage children in a classroom setting.

Like style, tone is created through deliberate decisions about sentence structure and word choice.

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